Offseason spotlight: Ole Miss

Turning our attention to Ole Miss and who's in the spotlight this offseason for the Rebels.

Spotlight: Defensive end Channing Ward, 6-4, 256, rising sophomore

2012 summary: Ward played in 12 games as a true freshman and was a fixture on special teams. He finished with 21 tackles, including 1.5 for loss.

The skinny: Ward was one of the crown jewels of Hugh Freeze's first signing class at Ole Miss in 2012. He was a top-50 prospect nationally and ranked by ESPN as the No. 5 defensive end in the country. Because he wasn't cleared academically by the NCAA until late, Ward missed a large portion of the preseason and was behind when the season began. He still showed flashes athletically and delivered some massive hits on special teams. The Rebels will be counting on that kind of big-play ability from Ward on defense in 2013, and these next six months will be pivotal in his development. He has everything it takes physically to be a premier pass-rusher in this league and is incredibly strong. He'll also have a little extra motivation with so much attention focused on prized 2013 defensive end signee Robert Nkemdiche. Spring practice will be Ward's chance to show what he can do before Nkemdiche arrives on campus. Either way, the Rebels look like they will be set at the defensive end position for the next couple of years, especially if Ward takes the kind of step the coaches think he will this offseason. Rising junior C.J. Johnson also returns after racking up eight tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks, last season.

Past spotlights: